In the 1958 film The Line Up, two psychopathic killers are hired to recover heroin from unsuspecting tourists. One of the characters, Julian, played by the skeletonized Robert Keith, writes down the last words of the victims. As Julian ruminates over the words of their latest prey he says, “That will print well for an epitaph.” In the spirit of Julian and my love of post WWII / pre-Kennedy Camelot film making, here are the final films of ten film noir leading men and a short synopsis of each movie. Also, I have added links to three films of each actor that I would recommend as hard boiled and entertaining.
Dana Andrews / Prince Jack (1985)
Dana Andrews studied opera before becoming an actor but rarely sang in movies. In the thirties a clear resonant voice was still the “thing” due to low quality sound equipment. He is associated with the obsessive detective type and the down-on-your-luck anti-hero. He had hardened features with “Ken doll” black hair and delivered his lines like his jaw was wired. Dana Andrews’ last movie was playing “The Cardinal” in the wooden docudrama of the JFK administration, Prince Jack. This movie’s depiction of Kennedy reveals that the Cardinal and the Catholic church wielded great influence and judgment on both Jack and Bobbie. Andrews is seated in both scenes that he is in, with minimal body movement; even the feet washing scene where he raises his feet to be dried by Joe Kennedy (Lloyd Nolan) seems painful.
Fallen Angel (1945), Boomerang (1947), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Humphrey Bogart / The Harder They Fall (1956)
What can you say about Bogie except #1 male movie actor, American icon and heavy smoker. In The Harder They Fall Bogey plays Eddie Willis, an ex-newspaper sports writer. Desperate for money, Eddie accepts a job from a shady boxing promoter Benko and helps publicize an untalented boxer Toro Moreno, “The Argentine Bull.” Eddie is finally disgusted by the way Benko manipulates and abuses the helpless boxer and decides to use his writing skills to expose the corruption inside the boxing syndicate. Humphrey was already diagnosed with cancer when he made this film but is seen throughout the movie smoking. Evidently many of his lines were dubbed because they were inaudible.
The Big Sleep (1946) In a Lonely Place (1950) Beat the Devil * (1953) *film noir parody
Steve Cochran / Tell Me In The Sunlight (1965)
Steve had a reputation for being a hunk above and below the belt. He slept with many of the leading actresses of his day and had a long time affair with Mae West. He usually played the intense tough guy and made some notable, mostly B pictures in the 50’s. He reminds me of a cross between a Ray Liotta look / gaze with a Christopher Walken intensity. Cochran, trying to move up the movie food chain, co-produced and starred in the critically acclaimed Italian film Il Grido with director Michelangelo Antonioni. Cochran would eventually die under mysterious circumstances on a boat in the ocean with three young women (It would make a good movie…). Steve Cochran produced, wrote, directed and starred in his last film, Tell Me In The Sunlight. Shot in Venice, CA there are some great locations in this black and white, moody love stained story between a stripper and a sailor.
The Chase (1946) Highway 301 (1950) Private Hell 36 (1954)Bonus “What You Need” The Twilight Zone (1959) Really great episode!
Richard Conte / The Return of the Exorcist (1975)
Richard Conte more times than not played duplicitous characters, seemingly the good guy who in turn would “surprise” be the bad guy or just the opposite. He had an everyman quality with a simmering chip on his shoulder. Later in his career Conte played the cool snake in the grass Don Barzini, the strongest boss in The Godfather (1972) except, of course, for Brando’s Don Corleone. After The Godfather Conte made mostly European films, starring in four movies in 1974 (he died in 1975) in Italy including the title role in The Return of the Exorcist. I have not been able to track this film down except for short clips; this movie and a whole sub-genre were riding the wave of the success of William Fredkin’s, The Exorcist (1973).
Thieves’ Highway (1949) The Sleeping City (1950) The Big Combo (1955)
John Garfield / He Ran All The Way (1951)
John Garfield was a Hollywood A-lister who ran afoul of the HUAC committee in the late 40’s, early 50’s. This all but ended his career and some have speculated the stress contributed to a serious heart condition and ultimately dying at a very young age. He Ran All The Way is essentially a home invasion in which Garfield’s character takes a family hostage after a robbery goes awry. The ending of this film is ironic in that he dies in the gutter, tragic for an actor of his stature. After Garfield’s death the HUAC committee cleared him of all charges.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Body and Soul (1947) Force of Evil (1948)
Sterling Hayden / Venom (1981)
Sterling Hayden had an interesting career as an actor, writer and as an adventurer. He was a seafarer, traveling the world over. He preferred living on the water and could be found living on a canal barge on the Seine or a ferryboat docked in Sausalito. Hayden played tough guys and complex characters with an underlying sparkle that could represent menace or joy. Venom is an unintentionally campy movie with a rubber oily snake stand-in stealing the show. Ironically, the movie boasted a strong cast that included, Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed and Sarah Miles. Sterling plays Howard Anderson, a big time African game hunter visiting his grandson in London but comes off looking more like the last days of Howard Hughes, fragile and confused as to whether this is a horror film or a satire of one. Sterling still has many interesting ticks and facial reactions in Venom and gets the girl (Sarah Miles, Blow-Up), a doctor of toxicology at the end.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) Crime Wave (1954) The Killing (1956)
Robert Mitchum / James Dean: Race with Destiny (1997)
Robert Mitchum was the bad boy of Hollywood in the late forties early fifties, becoming the poster child for the anti-hero in movies about flawed characters; these were later known as film noir. Mitchum was busted for pot in a Hollywood sting operation and spent 43 days at a work farm in Castaic, Ca. The conviction would later be overturned and the incident only enhanced his on-screen persona. Mitchum’s last film was a mechanical James Dean bio-pic James Dean: Race with Destiny. Mitchum plays director George Stevens who worked with Dean in Dean’s last film Giant. Curious Mitchum would be in a film about another actor’s last film and days… Mitchum is shrunken and almost immobile in the 3 scenes in the movie, spent mostly yelling at the Dean character for being a whiny little bastard.
Pursued (1947) Crossfire (1947) Out of the Past (1947) Hell of a year!!!
Dennis O’Keefe / The Naked Flame (1964)
Versatile tough guy and comic actor Dennis O’Keefe was an extra in over 200 movies before rising through the ranks, changing his name and becoming a leading actor in mostly B films. O’Keefe was uniquely independent, acting, writing, producing and directing at times and had successful careers in radio, movie and television. Dennis’ no-nonsense screen persona together with a rich baritone delivery made his characters believable and easy on the ears if not the eyes. O’Keefe’s last film, The Naked Flame is a low budget “Canuxploitation” film with one of the most incongruent soundtracks I’ve ever heard; imagine rape, murder and mayhem underscored with perky tinkling piano keys and a frothy Wurlitzer haze (not intended for laughs). Dennis plays an attorney who goes to a small village in Alberta, Canada to investigate a rash of house burnings. He stumbles onto a Russian Christian sect, the Doukhobor’s that burn houses and strip naked in front of them when they feel their rights have been abused. Based on a true story…
The Leopard Man (1943) T-Men (1947) Raw Deal (1948)
John Payne / They Ran For Their Lives (1968)
John Payne is a curious actor who started out crooning musicals and acting in kid films (the idealistic defense attorney in Miracle on 34th Street). He made the switch to more ominous characters after “Miracle…” choosing film noirs and westerns where he was one of the first actors to retain film rights to them for television distribution after the film’s initial release. John Payne directed and acted in his last film, They Ran For Their Lives, a Las Vegas robbery, desert chase movie. It has not been released on DVD and I have not seen it yet at revivals or noir festivals. It is notable for the title song by The Knickerbockers (one hit wonders, Lies, 1966 Top Twenty).
Kansas City Confidential (1952) 99 River Street (1953) Slightly Scarlet (1956)
Richard Widmark / True Colors (1991)
Widmark had the misfortune of playing a really good psychopath in Kiss of Death, his first film, that lead to an Oscar nomination, Golden Globe and a contract of typecasting. Ultimately, he would transcend the type and play anti-heroes and tough do-gooders. In True Colors Richard Widmark plays James Stiles, a powerful Senator who is being blackmailed by his son-in-law… highly unlikely. However, Widmark’s performance is bold, showing no signs of slowing down. His nuanced reprimand on the golf course with John Cusack (the son-in-law) is spirited and believable in a movie that needs a reality check. Widmark continued to pursue real political issues after Hollywood continuing his anti-gun advocacy.
Kiss of Death (1947) Pickup on South Street (1953) The Trap (1959)